Children: Health

Department for Education written question – answered on 29th June 2020.

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Photo of Rosie Cooper Rosie Cooper Labour, West Lancashire

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment his Department has made of the effect of school closures on children’s physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The Department for Education is working closely with educational institutions, sector organisations, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), NHS England and Public Health England (PHE) to understand the effects of the measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the mental health and wellbeing of children and identify the children and young people that need help and will continue to do so as more pupils return to school.

There are well established links between physical activity, improved mental wellbeing and educational attainment and we recognise the importance that children continue to remain fit and active, wherever possible, and have the 60 minutes of daily physical activity recommended by the Chief Medical Officers. We are encouraging schools to prioritise physical activity as they welcome more children back to school. Schools are free to organise and deliver a physical education curriculum that suits the needs of all their pupils whilst following COVID-19 government guidelines.

The return to school is a key part of supporting the mental health and wellbeing of pupils, as in addition to providing more opportunities for physical activity, attendance at school allows social interaction with peers, carers and teachers, which benefits wellbeing. To support this, we have encouraged schools to focus on mental wellbeing as pupils return. Children in Reception, year 1 and year 6 are now able to return to primary, and year 10 and year 12 pupils are able to receive face-to-face support at secondary. Primaries with capacity can bring back additional groups, in line with existing protective measures, and we have given schools the flexibility to have face-to-face ‘check-ups’ with all pupils during the summer term, which will ensure more children and young people are able to achieve this benefit. Our intention is for all children to return to school from September and guidance will be published soon.

We are working with the DHSC to put in place further specific support for school staff to understand the issues that pupils will face with their mental wellbeing. This includes training for teachers, such as a new module developed with clinical experts on how to teach about mental health in health education and more information is available here:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/teaching-about-mental-wellbeing.

Access to mental health support is more important than ever during the COVID-19 outbreak. NHS services remain open, and leading mental health charities are being supported to deliver additional services through the £5 million Coronavirus Mental Health Response Fund. During Mental Health Awareness Week, the government also announced that a further £4.2 million will be awarded to mental health charities – including the Samaritans, Young Minds, and Bipolar UK.

All NHS mental health trusts have been asked to ensure that there are 24/7 open access telephone lines to support people of all ages. These are available for children and young people as well as adults. PHE and Health Education England have also developed advice and guidance for parents and professionals on supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing, which is available here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-supporting-children-and-young-peoples-mental-health-and-wellbeing.

In addition, children and young people can access free confidential support anytime from government-backed voluntary and community sector organisations either by texting SHOUT to 85258, or by calling Childline on 0800 1111 or The Mix on 0808 808 4994. Children and young people can also find online information on COVID-19 and mental health on the Young Minds website, which is available here:

https://youngminds.org.uk/about-us/reports/coronavirus-impact-on-young-people-with-mental-health-needs/.

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